The Dallas Cowboys have life.
Yes, a Cowboys team, left for dead just 11 days ago, not only still has a beating heart, but signs of new life after Monday’s improbable 19-16 victory against the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field.
In a game destined for overtime, Redskins receiver DeSean Jackson avoided it by trying to make a play on a punt return by reversing his field deep in his own territory. He ended up fumbling the ball after being hit by safety J.J. Wilcox with punter Chris Jones recovering for the Cowboys with 1:26 remaining in the game.
The play was reviewed by the officials, but the ruling on the field was upheld.
Two plays later, Darren McFadden scored on a 6-yard run.
Of course, not to be outdone, the Redskins returned the kickoff 41 yards and then had 15 more tacked on by a Wilcox facemask penalty. They tied the game on a 28-yard pass from Kirk Cousins to Jackson with 49 seconds left.
But in a season of dramatics, the Cowboys weren’t done. Lucky Whitehead returned the kickoff 46 yards. Dez Bryant then made two catches to move the ball to the Redskins’ 36.
Dan Bailey gave the Cowboys the win with a 54-yard field goal with 9 seconds to go.
Bailey was hoisted aloft in jubilation by tight end Jason Witten.
It was Bailey’s 10th game-winning field goal of his career, extending his franchise record.
“It was excitement,” Bailey said of his feelings when Witten lifted him up. “We were all in that moment. This team is about fight. We were fighting hard. To come away with a win was pretty exciting. I didn’t know if he was going to to tackle me or what. He is a pretty big guy. It was exciting. It was a lot of fun.”
It was fun for all at the end, especially a jubiliant Bryant, who was shut out for the first three quarters and showed his frustration a number of times.
But he ended up with three catches for 62 yards, including a 42-yarder to set up a field goal to tie the game 9-9 with 4:25 left, setting the stage for the final heroics.
“We needed this one. We really did, man,” Bryant said. “It was ugly but we got it and that’s the only thing that matters.
“A lot of frustrations at the beginning of the game, but you’ve got to keep yourself in check. You’ve got to keep yourself in check and understand we’ve still got an opportunity,” Bryant added. “At the end of the day, whenever you look at the bigger picture and stay poised and stay ready, good things happen. That’s what happened to us tonight.”
It was an example of his maturity and the resiliency of the Cowboys on Monday night and during a seemingly lost season when everything seemed to be going against them _ that is until Jones fell on the fateful fumble to get things turned around.
It wasn’t a pretty effort as the Cowboys had to overcome three fumbles, countless penalties and a punchless offense for much of the night.
But the defense kept them in the game, allowing them to hang around long enough for the fateful turn of events, and game-winning score.
It was the team’s first win of the season without Tony Romo at quarterback after losing the previous seven.
Matt Cassel became the first Cowboys quarterback not named Romo to win a game as starter since Stephen McGee in the 2010 season finale. Cassel passed for 222 yards with no interceptions.
“It was one of the crazier games I’ve ever been a part of,” Cassel said. “You know it was back and fourth and then that fourth quarter. The emotional roller coaster was pretty intense. But I thought the way our team finished and the resilience we showed. It shows a lot about the spirit of this team. I was really happy to be a part of it.”
But the Cowboys, losers of seven of the previous eight and seemingly out of hope after Romo went down for a second time with fractured collarbone in the 33-14 loss to the Carolina Panthers on Thanksgiving Day, are right back in the thick of the playoff chase in the NFC East.
The Cowboys (4-8) are one game back of the division lead with four games to go. The Redskins, New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles are all tied for first at 5-7.
Dallas plays at Green Bay on Sunday.
“We’re giving ourselves an opportunity to stay in it,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “The defense played outstanding football tonight.
“There was a lot of fight out there.”
Witten joins Tony Gonzalez as the only tight ends in NFL history with 1,000 career receptions. Witten entered the game needing two receptions to reach the mark. He made both catches on the first scoring drive. The milestone catch covered 7 yards. He finished with five catches for 45 yards.
But this victory was more a Cowboys team never giving up and never quitting when most thought they should be tanking the rest of season for the No. 1 overall pick.
In six of the Cowboys previous losses, they were within a score in the final quarter but were unable to make the plays when it counted.
The Cowboys got the win because they were able come up big when it mattered most, including Bryant, Whitehead, Wilcox, Jones and finally Bailey.
The Cowboys go to Green Bay with a chance to not only avenge last season’s NFC divisional playoff but also take another step toward turning their season around and making a run for the NFC East title.
“Well, I would have never dreamed this and you can say it speaks to parity and I guess it does and we’re fortunate,” a giddy owner Jerry Jones said. “We’ve got to get better, though. We play these guys again and we’ve got some tough road games ahead of us, so we’ve got a lot of work to do if we still want to keep our head up. This here was a good feeling.”